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40 years on: Unseen frame captures miss that still haunts Saint-Etienne fans

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IT is the moment that has haunted fans of one of Europe’s most famous football clubs.

More than 40 years on, supporters of Saint-Etienne still jolt awake, ashen-faced, from the recurring nightmares of watching a seemingly goalbound header rebound off the bar in the 1976 European Cup Final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Now, a long-forgotten photograph, unseen until today, captures the moment in a frame, a moment which fans of the French club still blame on Scotland’s square posts.

The picture, unearthed in the Sunday Post vaults, shows Jacques Santini’s header rebounding off the hard- cornered bar.

For reasons long lost in the mists of time, goalposts in Scotland used to be square, while, in the rest of the footballing world, they were circular or elliptical.

It was never an issue … until May 12, 1976. That was the day Saint-Etienne played in the final of the European Cup, now known as the Champions League, for the first and, so far, only time.

The French lost 1-0 to the mighty Bayern Munich side of that era. Their team, including stars like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier, claimed their third European Cup in a row. But Jacques Santini of Les Verts – nicknamed The Greens – came so close with a header in the first half of the final.

The ball cracked off the sharp edge of the bar and bounced down and back into play.

Every French fan is convinced the ball would have gone in if the bar had been round. It would have been the equaliser and with the Germans forced forward, they insist, Saint-Etienne would have exploited the space and gone on to win.

Such are the fortunes of football. The French left, cursing those goalposts but they never forgot and couldn’t forgive. The phrase les poteaux carres – the square posts – became a byword for what might have been. There is even a string of restaurants in Saint-Etienne which carries the name.

In 1987, Fifa, the sport’s governing body, standardised the shape, thickness and material of goalposts used in professional leagues around the world.

They are now all the same shape, made of aluminium and it is the referee’s job to check their condition before every professional game.

So Hampden had to change their famous goalposts. They put them into storage, but in 2013 decided to auction them.

In an act of Gallic masochism, Saint-Etienne Museum, based at the club’s Stade de Geoffroy-Guichard home, won a bidding war for the post that have such notoriety in their city, paying £17,000.

The posts are now a permanent exhibit at Musee des Verts.

But while the museum had a continuous, blurry, recording of the 1976 game playing, they didn’t have a good still photo showing the fateful split-second that Santini’s header hit the Hampden bar.

Until writer Steve Finan, seeking material for his new book, Lifted Over The Turnstile: Scotland’s Football Grounds In The Black & White Era, unearthed old negatives in our archives.

The negatives capturing the moment which remains infamous in France hadn’t been looked at for more than four decades.

Steve said: “I asked for the photo to be scanned in and blown up and it was, indeed, the precise moment.

“In fact, from the way the ball is placed, it seems incredible this wasn’t a goal.”

An enlarged version of the photo will now form part of an exhibit at the Musee des Verts.

Steve added: “Saint-Etienne didn’t win the biggest prize in club football, but at least they now have the definitive photographic proof of how close they came.”

Lifted Over The Turnstiles: Scottish Football Grounds In The Black & White Era, contains almost 200 rarely-seen pictures of 42 Scottish grounds and is out in May. Pre-order at dcthomsonshop.co.uk or call 0800 318 846.